Siân Jones is Families Outreach Officer for the South Downs National Park. Appointed at the end of 2019, her role is to build links with community organisations that work with families from underrepresented communities. Over the past year, she has been spearheading the National Park Authority’s Family John Muir Award, an innovative programme encouraging families to discover, explore and care for nature. Before coming to work at the South Downs National Park Siân was working therapeutically with young people.
Cissbury Ring is a fairly well-known local landmark, the largest hillfort in Sussex not far from where I live that I’d visited before and enjoyed.
But its personal meaning elevated to a new dimension, a deep-rooted connection, during this unprecedented and challenging year.
As is sometimes the case when something so beautiful is on your doorstep, it can be taken for granted. Of course I had been up, over and around Cissbury many times before. Yet over the past year, almost like a tree extending its roots into the soil beneath, my relationship with Cissbury Ring and the land around it has deepened immensely.
It’s become my go-to “happy place” during the pandemic.
Cissbury gives me perspective when I need it, with huge vistas over the Downs and the sea.
The walk is just strenuous enough for me to let go of any tensions and stress I might be holding in my mind and body. Once at the top, the views are simply breathtaking and I also breathe just a little more slowly, relaxing blissfully into the beauty.
I also love the sense of history that Cissbury Ring has. I vividly remember walking up to the top of the Ring to watch the sunrise on the morning of the Summer Solstice last year, and just standing there at dawn on the longest day, and thinking of all the generations of people who might have done the very same thing, going back thousands of years, was awe-inspiring. A day I won’t forget in a hurry.
It’s been wonderful witnessing the seasons change; listening to the dawn chorus, hearing the owls and spotting deer. At least once a week I head out before dawn to experience being above the town in the dark and then watching the colour return to the landscape as the sun rises.
As the Families Outreach Officer for the South Downs National Park, I haven’t been able to work with families face to face during the pandemic, so I’ve been connecting families to the natural world through a series of weekly Family John Muir Award newsletters. It’s been such a delight getting emails back from some of the families sharing their photos and stories of the places that inspire and support them – just as Cissbury Ring has been inspiring and supporting me over the past 12 months.
This deeper connection to nature is a common experience – a shining light for good to emerge from the pandemic – and long may it continue, evolve and shine brighter.